PROVIDENCE — In many ways, state Senator Tiara Mack and former state Representative Joseph S. Almeida are a study in contrasts.
She is 28. He is 64.
She was first elected two years ago. He was first elected 22 years ago.
She is a critic of state Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and his leadership team. He is a Ruggerio supporter who just received a campaign contribution from the Senate leader.
But the two have somethings in common, besides their political party.
Both have worked on significant pieces of legislation. Both insist that voters should focus on their achievements and their goals rather than their attention-grabbing controversies. And both are trying to win a closely watched Democratic primary in Senate District 6, an elongated district that stretches from Washington Park and South Providence to Mount Hope, embracing predominantly Black and Latino areas of the city.
In July, Mack shared a TikTok video on her official political account, featuring her in a bikini on a Block Island beach, twerking upside down before singing “Vote Senator Mack” into the camera. The 8-second clip went viral, stoked by additional comments from Mack on TikTok and Twitter and sparking backlash from critics, ridicule from the far right, and admiration from her fans.
Mack leveraged the national interest with a hashtag, #TwerkingFor, to draw attention to key issues such as abortion access, trans rights, closing the wealth gap, and ending evictions.
I #TwerkFor abortion justice pic.twitter.com/OCAKSib2xr— Tiara Mack (@MackDistrict6) July 7, 2022
Almeida’s controversies have had legal consequences: He was sentenced in 2015 to one year probation and fined $1,000 after being charged with misappropriating $6,122 in campaign funds. And in 2003, Almeida was accused of assaulting a man who was trying to repossess his girlfriend’s car. Almeida, a former police officer, claimed the man intentionally smashed his own head three times against the door in frustration because Almeida wouldn’t let him tow the car. The judge didn’t buy it, and found Almeida guilty of assault.
In an interview, Mack told the Globe she is still receiving “daily harassment” from people on social media because of the TikTok video. She said has received far more criticism and scrutiny over that video than Almeida has for the assault and campaign fund charges — or that Ruggerio received for charges of stealing condoms from CVS in 1990 and driving while intoxicated in Barrington in 2012. (He pleaded guilty to refusing to submit to a chemical test, and the DUI charge was dismissed.)
“It highlights the double standard that women are held to,” Mack said. “I was enjoying a day on the beach. It’s not illegal and less scandalous than stealing condoms and misappropriating campaign funds or assaulting someone else, but I received a lot more criticism.”
Mack noted that her legislative work has received less attention than her twerking. She was the Senate sponsor of a new law requiring that African heritage history be taught in Rhode Island elementary and secondary schools, and the main sponsor of a bill to create a sexual assault survivors bill of rights, which a Senate committee held for further study.
Mack said she wants to return to the Senate to pursue legislation such as raising the income tax rate on the richest Rhode Islanders — a proposal that Ruggerio opposes — and repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, also known as LEOBOR, which dictates how police departments handle officer misconduct cases.
Mack works as an associate at Isaacson Miller, an executive search consulting firm in Boston, and previously worked as a youth organizing specialist for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. She is also a rugby player whose Providence Rugby team recently won the national Division 2 senior club championship.
“I have been excited to shake up the office by showing that you can be a young, spirited, bold leader,” Mack said in a video posted to Twitter Aug. 13. “I have hope that more people see that young, queer, Black people deserve a space in our State House.”
Almeida contends that while Mack says she is fighting for people who are underserved and underrepresented, her track record says otherwise.
“She hasn’t done anything for communities of color, and people have not heard her talk about issues that affect the poor,” he told the Globe in an interview.
While he called her video “embarrassing to my four daughters, to all women, and to women of color,” Almeida said he does not bring up Mack’s twerking when he campaigns door-to-door.
“To be honest, I don’t think that is an issue — that is her issue, not mine,” he said.
He’d also prefer that the media move on from from his issues — his campaign finance violations and assault conviction.
“Something happened 11, 12 years ago, and the media is still reporting on it,” he said. “You should judge people by what they are doing now. The media keeps talking about the past. I want to talk about what I’m doing now.”
Almeida said he is running to focus attention on economic development, education, civil rights, and abortion rights. For example, he questions whether tax stabilization agreements for new developments are helping people of color, and he thinks the state needs to do more work for minority owned businesses. “Disadvantaged business enterprises are not getting our fair share,” he said.
Almeida also points to his past legislative accomplishments, including sponsoring a 2002 bill on landlords’ responsibility for lead paint, and introducing successful legislation on racial profiling.
He also introduced bills to ban “assault weapons” and gun magazines containing more than 10 rounds. (This year, the General Assembly passed a bill to limit magazine capacity but did not pass an assault weapons ban).
Almeida served in the Providence Police Department for 18 years and he co-founded the Rhode Island Minority Police Association. He owned a bar called Essence for 20 years, and he is now starting a company called Essence Construction.
Almeida said he does not favor repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, but he said, “It definitely needs to be revamped. We need to catch up with the times.”
According to the state Board of Elections, Almeida had $2,569 in his campaign account as of Aug. 15, while Mack had $4,260.
Senate President Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, contributed $700 to Almeida’s campaign. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ryan W. Pearson, a Cumberland Democrat, contributed $250. And Representative Joseph M. McNamara, a Warwick Democrat and Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman, contributed $50.
Mack’s donors in the most recent reporting period include Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo ($200), Representative Rebecca Kislak, a Providence Democrat ($200), and Representative Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat ($200).
The Democratic primary is Sept. 13. The winner will face Republican Adriana Bonilla.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.